It just looked like a simple visit at first – but then it is gradually turned into something which is very twisted to say the least. Xavier Dolan’s “Tom at the Farm” is a darkly fascinating psychological thriller with quiet but disturbing moments to makes us uneasy, and it keeps us on the edge as watching its deeply troubled characters who happen to be stuck with each other under the same roof. While we do not know everything about them even in the end, the dark aspects of their warped relationships are compelling to watch, and we can help but observe them while fearing for the worst.
At the beginning, we meet a young gay lad named Tom, played by the director/co-screenplay writer Xaiver Dolan, a 25-year-old director who has quickly established himself as a new exciting talent to watch since his acclaimed debut film “I Killed My Mother” (2009). Although the movie does not give much information on Tom or Tom’s relationship with his dead lover Guillaume in the past, the opening scene succinctly sets his melancholic mental state as showing his mournful words being written on cloth; he tells us he cannot even cry over his lover’s death, and we only can guess how much he is sad and distraught because of his personal loss.
For attending Guillaume’s upcoming funeral, he goes to Guillaume’s rural hometown where he has never visited before, and he naturally feels like a stranger right from when he arrives at Guillaume’s family house. Although Guillaume’s aging mother Agathe (Lisa Roy) seems to be glad to meet the close friend of her dead son and lets Tom stay in Guillaume’s bedroom she has always kept clean and intact for years, she has never heard about Tom from Guillaume, and she does not even know about her son’s sexuality either. She was only told that Guillaume had a girlfriend, and she wonders why his girlfriend does not come to attend his funeral.
That lie came from Guillaume’s older brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), who has been running the family farm as the man of the house. He literally swoops upon Tom during Tom’s first night at the house, and this aggressive guy makes it very clear to Tom during their uncomfortably close confrontation on Guillaume’s bed that he must go along with the deception Francis has maintained for his mother during many years. All Tom will have to do on the next day looks simple; he will say something nice during the funeral as Guillaume’s good friend, and then he will never come back to this town.
Still remaining vulnerable in his mind, Tom tries to do things as demanded by Francis on the next day, but then his situation gets more complicated. He fails to read what he wrote for the funeral, and that certainly displeases Francis, who makes another moment of his bullying aggression on Tom right after the service is over. Tom wants to leave as soon as possible after such a humiliating experience, but he somehow gets himself stuck in the house along with Francis and Agathe.
He soon finds himself gripped by the cruel and manipulative tactics of Francis, who reveals more of his dark, violent, twisted sides in front of his increasingly nervous prey. Tom notices at one point that there is something between Francis and other people in the town, but neither Francis nor town people tells Tom the reason behind that awkwardness, and it is only implied that Francis’ reputation is not that good around his town.
And we see more of a morbid daily life led by Francis and Agathe, which may eventually engulf and transform Tom in the end if he is not careful. While Francis harasses Tom like an abusive husband as pushing him into more farm works, it turns out that his seemingly fragile mother has a tight grip on her son, who has been dreaming of the escape from his boring home but does not dare to resist against his mom. There is a question on whether Agathe has chosen to turn a blind eye on the truths about her dead son, and the way she obliviously clings to the memories of her dead son looks as grotesque as what Francis may feel about Tom. Did he dominate over his brother just like he did to Tom? And does he expect Tom to fill the role left empty by his brother?
While throwing some moments of black humor, Dolan, who also produced and edited the film while filling the role of costume designer as usual, keeps the tension accumulated along his story which is based on his co-screenplay writer Michel Marc Bouchard’s stage play with the same name. While his previous film “Lawrence Anyways” (2012) was full of light, colorful touches as following an offbeat story of its transsexual hero and his long-suffering wife, “Tom at the Farm” is moody and nervous under its cold, gray atmosphere accompanied with wide, barren landscapes, and it is further accentuated by Gabiel Yared’s ominous score which functions like the bad omens of something terrible to happen. Dolan sometimes modulates the screen ratio to emphasize tension during the key moments in the film, and this interesting approach is effective on the emotional level rather than being a mere stylish touch to be added to the screen.
As the lead actor, Dolan also gives a good performance, and he draws equally engaging performances from his co-performers. Pierre-Yves Cardinal and Lise Roy are impressive as suggesting far more disturbing things behind their twisted characters on the verge of insanity, and Evelyne Brochu, who appears later in the film as the sole voice of sanity, holds her place well as her crucial supporting character belatedly realizes what kind of sick situation she is brought into.
“Tom at the Farm” is a confident work made with evident skills, and it confirms that there will be more interesting things to come from Xavier Dolan. I must confess that I had some reservation on “Lawrence Anyways” while praising it, but I was impressed by Dolan’s talent none the less, and I admire how willingly he puts himself into a different territory in this following film. It has considerable control and energy on the whole, and that is why I eagerly wait for the next film from this Canadian enfant terrible.